By Dave Andrusko
There are now two pro-life legal defense teams suing the City of New York for Bill 371-A, signed into law last week by pro-abortion Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The Alliance Defense Fund, representing two centers and a maternity home, has filed suit charging that the law “threatens non-medical, pro-life pregnancy care centers with steep fines and potential closure if they don’t post signs and publish in their ads that the city health department encourages women to go elsewhere.”
Expectant Mother Care, another group of pregnancy centers, is suing New York City with the assistance of the American Center for Law & Justice.
The ADF lawsuit states, “Plaintiffs desire to offer their free, non-medical, non-commercial assistance to women without the threat of Bill 371-A forcing them to recite government-mandated speech, to be priced out of advertising to women in need, and to face fines, closure and jail time.”
“Pregnancy centers, which offer real help and hope to women, shouldn’t be punished by political allies of the abortion industry,” said ADF Legal Counsel Matt Bowman. “Attacks on pregnancy centers are an ideologically motivated attempt to distract from the growing national scandals in the abortion industry. For years, abortionists have preyed on women and girls for profit. Now pro-abortion politicians are trying to give women fewer choices.”
Bill 371-A is both more sweeping and costlier for non-compliance than laws recently passed in Maryland, which have been stricken or modified by federal judges. It’s not just that crisis pregnancy centers are compelled to indicate whether they provide abortion and contraception or makes referrals for them (in notices whose size and letter type is whatever the consumer affairs commissioner demands), and whether there is a licensed medical provider on site (even though state law does not require medical providers at non-medical centers). The forced disclosures must also be their advertizing, literature, and interactions with clients–in both Spanish and English; be posted in multiple places; and with penalties starting at $1,000 for the first day and up to $2,500 for each day thereafter.
According to the ADF, these centers can be shut down after three days of violation within a two-year period.
As we discussed yesterday, Bloomberg was not eager to address the law’s constitutionality last Wednesday. “As for the legality of the new law, Bloomberg did not attempt to defend it from charges that it is unconstitutional,” wrote the Wall Street Journal’s Michael Howard Saul. “’You can challenge it in court,’ he told opponents. ‘If it’s constitutional or not, I just don’t know.’”
Two similar anti-CPC laws have not fared well in the federal courts. Federal Judge Deborah K. Chasanow invalidated a portion of a Montgomery County, Maryland, law (modeled after the city of Baltimore law) that required CPCs to post signs that strongly suggest pregnant women should go elsewhere for care. Judge Chasanow did uphold part of the law that requires CPCs to have signage (in English and Spanish) that state “the Center does not have a licensed medical professional on staff”– at least until a trial on the law has concluded.
The City of Baltimore has appealed the January 28 ruling of U.S. District Judge Marvin J. Garbis that struck down a City Council ordinance requiring “limited-service pregnancy centers” to post a sign in their waiting rooms notifying clients that the center “does not provide or make referral for abortion or birth-control services.”
“Whether a provider of pregnancy-related services is ‘pro-life’ or ‘pro-choice,’ it is for the provider — not the government — to decide when and how to discuss abortion and birth-control methods,” wrote Garbis (see “Federal Judge Cites Free Speech in Invalidating Baltimore Pregnancy Center Ordinance,” www.nrlc.org/NewsToday/BaltimoreFreeSpeech.
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